Last week’s Pittsburgh news, today #32: the unsung pawpaw

For people who may not read the news everyday, but would still like to know what's going on in the Pittsburgh region.

Pittsburgh Independent contributor Anthony Stewart hunts for the elusive pawpaw fruit at an undisclosed location in this 2018 file photo.

Pittsburgh Media Partnership intern Caitlyn Scott contributed to this report.

Pittsburgh’s “progressive vanguard” A pair of national news articles released the same day explore gains by progressive politicians in Western PA. For NBC News, Allan Smith interviews Rep. Summer Lee and others in exploring how Pittsburgh became a “vanguard of the progressive movement,” and how that leaves some Allegheny County Republicans sensing an opportunity.  Not to be outdone, Pat Garofalo writes in The New Republic that the future of the Democratic party itself lies in Western PA, and distills the elements of progressive victory down to “marrying local worker solidarity, an unchecked corporate villain, strong local organizing, and an affirmative policy agenda for dealing with it.”

Truckers fight emissions standards: Truckers and dealers who sell trucks in Pennsylvania have filed suit against the Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Quality Board, challenging the EQB’s adoption of Califironia’s “stringent emissions standards” over for the next 10 years, on procedural grounds. Ed Blazina for Pittsburgh Union Progress. 

Pitt tells grads they didn’t graduate:  More than a month after commencement, 17 students at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education were notified that they did not, in fact, graduate from the university after all. Said one formerly recent graduate, who was informed in an email that they need another 18 credits to graduate: “I’m going to be sitting in class with my blood boiling.” Jack Troy for Pitt News.

Healthcare dispute resolved…for now:  Cigna and Allegheny Health Network (AHN) announced a one-year deal to ensure Cigna-insured customers in Western PA maintain access to AHN doctors and facilities. Patrick Damp for KDKA. 

Starbucks baristas win big: A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that Starbucks “illegally fired four workers and broke dozens of federal labor laws in its attempt to thwart baristas’ efforts to form unions in some of the company’s Pittsburgh cafes.” Steve Mellon for PUP.

“This is who I am: Pittsburgh-area trans teenagers and their families discuss the challenges they face. Steve Mellon for PUP.  RELATED: Also for PUP, Delaney Parks reports on resources for trans youth and their families in Western PA

The unsung pawpaw: Is the “delicious, low-maintenance” pawpaw, native to Appalachia and Western PA, having a moment? Jessica Damiano for the Associated Press. BONUS: Learn more about “America’s forgotten fruit” from Pittsburgh author, Andrew Moore (not to be confused with Andy Warhol Museum director, Patrick Moore).

PWSA proposes rate hike: The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has proposed a rate increase that will go into effect July 8. Customers already pay more per gallon than “large-scale commercial and industrial users,” a disparity that will only increase under the proposed plan. Ann Belser for NEXTpittsburgh.

Shelter closure hardships: Homelessness is just one of the hardships faced by many former residents of the now-closed Smithfield United Church of Christ overnight shelter in Downtown Pittsburgh. Matt Glover for PINJ. MORE: For PublicSource, Stephanie Strasburg and Eric Jankiewicz find that the Smithfield shelter “exposed [a] frayed safety net and tested county compassion.”

Rt. 51 bridge demolition opposed: A local business is calling upon lawmakers to reconsider the demolition of a poorly rated bridge over Saw Mill Run Boulevard in Pittsburgh. Wabash Properties LLC filed a lawsuit claiming demolition would “effectively cut off access for their business,” limiting large deliveries of equipment and access to employee parking. Julia Felton for TribLive. 

Gainey nominee in limbo:  Mayor Ed Gainey’s nomination of Silas Russell to Pittsburgh’s planning commission remains in limbo, three months after being sent to City Council for approval. Russell, who is the political director for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, saw his appointment blocked by City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith due to perceived concerns over conflict of interest. Jon Moss for Pittsburgh Union Progress.

Power plant pushback: More than 100 residents from Elizabeth Township attended a meeting organized by the Environmental Health Project of Pittsburgh to voice concerns over a proposed natural gas-fueled power plant. The proposed, 639-megawatt plant would rest on 17 acres of farmland in Smithdale, which lies across the Westmoreland County border from Collinsburg. Joe Napsha for TribLive.

Pittsburgh’s Titanic sub connection: Carnegie Mellon professor Alex Waibel took a trip in the now-pulverised Titan submersible in 2022. He reflects on the experience, and the fact he was planning to return again in a few months. Megan Harris for CityCast Pittsburgh.

Coal town drag queens: Travel “deep in Pennsylvania coal country” and spend time with the Daniels drag family, who are “firmly woven in the fabric of the larger community.” Carolyn Kaster and Calvin Woodward for the Associated Press.

A renovation for “The Jungle“: After winning a national competition, “Every Court Has a Story,” a basketball court off of Arch Street in the Northside will receive a fully-funded renovation. The renovation is provided by The Langston Galloway Foundation and Five-Star Basketball in partnership with Project Backboard and Local Hoops. Royce Jones for KDKA

Note: In solidarity with striking Newspaper Guild workers, the Pittsburgh Independent will not share news from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow striking workers’ news coverage at the Pittsburgh Union Progress.

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He is a 2x 2023 Western PA Press Club Golden Quill award winner, in feature and business reporting. And a 3x finalist in the investigative reporting category.

He is a 2018 first prize winner in environmental reporting from the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for reporting on lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

In 2022 and 2021, he was awarded a grant from The Gumshoe Group to support his investigative reporting.